Saturday, June 15, 2024

Music on My Mind


Kyu Sakamoto, "Ue o muite arukou". As the translation in the video notes, Ue o muite arukou means 'I look up as I walk', but the song is almost universally known by its second title, "Sukiyaki". It was  chosen just to make it more recognizable to Americans when the song was released  in the U.S. -- sukiyaki was the best known Japanese dish in the U.S. prior to about the 1980s. Nonetheless, despite what the video says, the title is actually well chosen. In the song, the singer is looking up at the stars, alone, trying not to cry, thinking back on happier days in spring, summer, and autumn; sukiyaki is a traditionally a winter dish, and often associated with meals at the end of the year. In any case, the original song, a rather melancholy version, came out in 1961. A slightly more upbeat version with lyrics changed to make them more bittersweet than sad was made for the American market, and became the one everyone knows. It hit the American charts in 1963 and skyrocketed, became the first East Asian song to make it into the Billboard 100, overflowed onto the music charts of several other countries, and became one of the top 20 best-selling singles of all time, a position it still holds. It's not just the most famous Japanese song in the world, it is one of the most famous songs, period. And it's easy to see why; it's instantly recognizable but it never gets old. Simple, sincere expressions of the most basic things in human life never do.